To take a photo or not: Photography and when to use it

You may have noticed that I am quite keen to take pictures and share them through this blog, or via Flickr, or other social media. I do hope that I do not overload you with the constant volume of my random pictures. You will be pleased to hear that this post is about taking pictures rather than being filled with photos.

Normally these days, if I am going somewhere new, I will take a camera with me, and of course, more often than not, I will at least have a mobile phone with me that includes a camera. Over the years, I have gone through various relationships with cameras. I remember being fascinated with the camera at home as a child, and being very keen to use it, and although I did use it on occasion, it was really my student days when I started to take pictures. I had a cheap, basic film camera that I used to take pictures of nights out and the like, although I was not going to many interesting places at the time to use it for those purposes. It was during my student days that I had my first trip to London – in fact, my first trip on a plane – when I was a contestant on the television programme “15 to 1”, if you remember that. I did not take a camera with me at that time, which would have seemed a sensible thing to do.
At the end of my second year at university, I went off to Germany to work for the summer. I went to Chemnitz, in the East of the country, which until a few years before – this was 1994 – had been part of the DDR – or East Germany – and had been known as Karl Marx Stadt. This was my first trip outside the British Isles, and I took my camera, and copies of some of my pictures to remind me of home. I took several films worth of photos in my short summer in Chemnitz, and travelled as far west as Luxemburg and as far east as Prague. I remember being given two pieces of advice. The first was that when you are somewhere new, always have a camera. You never know what you are going to see or what is going to happen. The second was of a different nature. The chap I was working for was a very well-travelled physics professor, and I asked about pictures that he might have from his trips. He didn’t take any. He said that, when he was younger, he would take pictures as he travelled, and now when he looks back on those trips, he remembers what he can see in the photos, and the pictures are replacing his actual memories of the event. Without the photos, you need to remember with more detail.

I continued to take some pictures as I travelled with a cheap film camera, and to be honest, without really knowing how to use it. I have been lucky enough to spend most of my career working in the travel industry, and that has included travelling to interesting places. It is very easy as a business traveller to only see airports, offices and hotels, and I have made efforts to avoid that to, where I can, see a little more of cities that that. However, for many years, my efforts in seeing the sights did not include taking pictures. For years, my photo taking would often be limited to functional pictures of offices, so that planning new IT systems could be done. Of all my trips to Algeria, Libya, Rwanda, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola, I have no pictures of anything other than offices. I was travelling frequently, and often thought that I would be back to take pictures at a future stage. I then went to spend six months working in Kuwait, and took less than ten pictures there.

After my time in Kuwait, I changed jobs again, and then, at the age of 30, realised that I had no photos of so many amazing places that I had been lucky enough to visit. People would ask me about trips to some of these places, and then ask to see photos of them, and I would not have any. After that, I started taking pictures again, but not quite as many as I do now. I was looking recently for pictures from various Grands Prix that I have attended over the years, and managed to find a few – seven or eight – from the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix. Other enjoyable and memorable events that I attended have even fewer photos.

Of course, one other change by this stage was the arrival of digital photography. Whilst my handful of photos from the Sepang race are film based, I was about to move to using digital as the default option. That meant that I could delete photos without ever printing them, I could see instantly how good – or not – the photo was, and I could store it electronically, even if it was another few years before there were good ways to share them online.

I bought a simple compact camera, and started using that, and that worked for a few years. I was keen though to take better pictures, and when I could see the pictures taken by others of various locations and compared them to mine, the quality of the photos that I had taken was generally quite poor. Some of this was no doubt down to skill – or a lack thereof – but some was down to the type of camera in use. A few years ago I decided to get a better camera, and went to a local camera shop. I explained that I wanted something that would take better pictures than I had before, and he suggested a bridge camera. I bought an Olympus, and the zoom on this and the better quality pictures encouraged me to take more and more photos. I used this over the next two or three years, and then decided that it was time for an even better camera. That’s when I bought my first DSLR, or Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. After reading about different cameras and their pros and cons, I went to visit a camera shop in the Lake District – I was on holiday there – and bought a Canon EOS 60D. I was amazed. If I thought the Olympus took good pictures, then the quality of the Canon pictures was just stunning. I marvelled at the satisfying click sound that happened each time I took a photo. I looked back at the Olympus pictures in the same way that I looked at the compact pictures when I first got the Olympus. I took pictures of everything, and slowly started to understand some of the more complex settings. I got an additional lens, a 500mm Sigma device that has a quite incredible zoom function. This has been superb for motor racing and wildlife photography, and gets much use.

Maybe one day I will upgrade to a full frame DSLR, but not in the short term. The Canon that I have takes pictures that are much better than my competence allows for me to control, and as I learn about new settings and ways to use it, the quality of pictures taken will probably improve more than buying a more sophisticated camera body. A good DSLR takes fantastic pictures with great sharpness and detail, and most have a fully automatic option that means that the user does not have to be an expert in the use of the camera, but of course, the more you learn about the use of the camera, the better your photos will be.

Some of you and some friends are very kind an compliment me on my photos. I would love to attribute the photos to my ability, but really, they are down to three things; being in the right place at the right time, having a good camera, and having a powerful lens. This more than compensates for my ability as a photographer.

I really enjoy taking pictures, and looking back on them as enhancing my memories of places, not replacing them, and I do very much wish that I had taken more pictures on some of my earlier trips. I do my best now to make sure I will not have the same regret in future.